The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (AT).
AT: For high school graduation, either right before or right after you do your graduation ceremony, it’s usually sometime during that week… There’s this other, more casual ceremony called Grad Night, where you stay up all night with your classmates doing different things. It varies from school to school and year to year and stuff, like I know some schools do DisneyLand, but at my school, we went to LACMA after hours, and they literally took us to a bar! (Laughs) They only had non-alcoholic drinks though. We then went to a bowling alley… and… a comedy club… it’s honestly hard to remember at this point where exactly we went. We just stayed up going different places around LA.
LT: What’s the point of it?
AT: No matter what you do, the point is it’s just that last time you’re all together as a class. Like ours was after graduation, and I remember watching people get picked up and just thinking “I might never see them again.”
AT is a twenty-three-year-old from Los Angeles, where she attended a private all girls high school. Like most private schools in LA, this school was known for having elaborate events, including Grad Night, so she had been waiting for her own ever since she first attended the school. In addition, AT says that due to the nature of her school being very small and all girls, Grad Night in particular is historically very emotional. She also says that Grad Night felt more ‘real’ than the graduation ceremony because it was more casual and “actually felt like we were just hanging out, and it’s where I said goodbye to a lot of people.”
AT is one of my relatives with whom I’m quarantining. This piece was collected in our living room as we were sitting at our kitchen table.
I think Grad Night speaks to the greater idea Americans have of adolescence. There are countless American movies that take place during a character’s senior year or the summer after high school, symbolizing the end of their childhood. While some societies put an emphasis on aging and wisdom, our society values youth, and it depicts the transition into adulthood as being stark and not gradual, hence the need to fit in as many memories as possible before that youth runs out. Grad Night is a perfect and exaggerated example of this. High school graduation is arguably the most significant milestone in terms of becoming an American adult, and Grad Night is essentially put on by the school so the students can have their last chance at making childhood memories. We hold this belief that you can’t have fun once you grow up, so there’s an added importance to the end of high school to ‘live while you still can.’
For more background on the emotional significance of Grad Night:
Spicer, Susan. “12-14 Years: Grad Night.” Today’s Parent, vol. 27, no. 6, 06, 2010, pp. 148-148,151.